June 30, 2008

Position Preview: Running Back

With nine weeks to go before football season commences, we begin our look at the Wolverines' individual position groups. Today, our focus is the running back position, which will rely on Brandon Minor, among others, to replace Mike Hart …








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style="color: rgb(0, 0, 102); font-weight: bold;">Running Backs
411



style="color: rgb(0, 0, 102);">Departing
Starters:
TB Mike Hart (39
career starts).

Returning Starters: FB
Mark Moundros (7).

Projected New
Starter:
TB
Brandon Minor.

Top Reserves: TB Carlos
Brown (3), TB Kevin Grady (2), FB Vince Helmuth.

Freshman Impact: Sam
McGuffie.



Post-Spring Depth Chart

Jr. Brandon Minor (6-1, 214)

Jr. Carlos Brown (6-0, 213)

Jr. Kevin Grady (5-9, 228)

Fr. Avery Horn (5-10, 185)



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OVERVIEW:

Just like that, Mike Hart is gone. For the better part of four seasons, the diminutive back out of Syracuse shouldered the offensive rushing burden, rushing for 5,040 yards and 41 touchdowns on 1,005 carries. His potential replacements this fall have combined for 410 rushes, 1,755 yards and 15 scores in their careers.





"It's been a really long time since I had to go into a season with a new set of backs because Mike had been there so long," long-time running backs coach Fred Jackson said. "What makes it difficult is you expect these guys to be where Mike ended his career versus where he actually came in. I'm expecting so much out of them, which is a little unfair to them, but what we need to be successful. It's a great challenge in that you're going into the season with some experience but not as much as you'd like."



Though the Wolverines do not return a proven starter this fall, the cupboard is not bare. Juniors Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady have plenty of experience as Hart's understudies and each is eager to show he can be Michigan's every-down back. Redshirt freshman Avery Horn and rookie Sam McGuffie will also look to carve out a role this season.



Coming out of spring ball, Minor held the lead over Grady, Brown and Horn for the starting assignment Aug. 30. However, Brown - the most versatile of the U-M backs - missed all of spring practice with an injury. He'll have a chance to showcase his abilities this fall.



At fullback, redshirt sophomore Mark Moundros is expected to see the majority of the snaps while sophomore Vine Helmuth continues to refine his blocking, receiving and rushing capabilities.



This much is certain, whoever wins the starting gig will receive plenty of opportunity. West Virginia's rush offense averaged more than 300 yards per game in 2007 under head coach Rich Rodriguez and the Maize and Blue ball carriers should receive enough carries to average more than 200 yards per contest.





THE PRO: Brandon Minor

Minor, a 6-1, 214-pound junior from Richmond, Va., listed second to Hart in 2007 with 385 yards on 90 carries. Many forecasted a grim future for Minor with the arrival of Rodriguez and the spread offense but the third-year back proved in the spring he can excel in open space.



Many observers believe Minor will eventually lose his starting job to Brown or a freshman, but he's going to give everything he can this year to make sure that doesn't happen.



THE RISING STAR: Carlos Brown

Perhaps the greatest disappointment in the spring was Brown's absence from drills. The coaches have great expectations for the former high school quarterback, believing he can dominate in the spread offense because of his speed and ability to make people miss. Brown could even see some time under center and he should certainly factor into the passing game as a receiver.



It's fair to say that in the minds of the coaches, Brown is the biggest X-factor in the offensive backfield as the fall approaches.




THE ROOKIE: Sam McGuffie

McGuffie's Rivals.com highlights have been the talk of The Fort for some time now, but everyone wants to see what he can do when the pads are on and the opponent is a Big Ten foe. According to Jackson, McGuffie should receive plenty of opportunity to impress this fall. In fact, there is some talk that McGuffie has the talent to supplant every back ahead of him on the depth chart.



BATTLE TO WATCH: Minor vs. Brown

Minor isn't guaranteed anything yet. Though he emerged from spring ball No. 1 on the depth chart, he's going to have to fend off a number of backfield teammates all hungry for a bigger role after serving in a lesser capacity as Hart backups. Brown should put up the biggest fight, but Horn, with continued growth, could snatch away carries and McGuffie has the potential to assume a large role also as soon as he arrives.






EXPECTATIONS:

In Jackson's long tenure at Michigan, he has had many great backs but rarely at the same time. This season, without a consensus No. 1 back, the 16-year veteran expects to use two, three, maybe even four or five backs on a consistent basis. He honestly believes that the Wolverines could boast two 1,000-yard rushers by year's end at the very least finish with a ground game that takes significant pressure off U-M's quarterback to make all the big plays.







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style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(228, 231, 235);">style="font-weight: bold;">Age: 50

College: Jackson State
(1972).

Experience: 29 years.

U-M Tenure: 16th season.


All-Big Ten Performers: Tyrone
Wheatley (1992-94), Tshimanga Biakabutuka (1995), Anthony Thomas
(1999-2000), Chirs Perry (2003) and Mike Hart (2004, 2006-07).

All-Americans: Chris
Perry (2003) and Mike Hart (2006-07).




style="vertical-align: top; background-color: rgb(0, 0, 102);">Running
Backs Coach Fred Jackson: At A Glance








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